Australian Prime Minister and the Minister of Defence unveiled the long-awaited 2016 Australian Defence White Paper February 25.
The plan is set to increase defence spending by AUS $29.9 billion (approx. US $21.5 billion) over the following ten years.
A Defence Industry Policy Statement (DIPS) and a Defence Integrated Investment Program (IIP) were also released on the occasion.
What will certainly make the Australian shipbuilders happy is the fact that navy is at the center of the defense paper as the country aims to double the submarine fleet to 12, add another three destroyers, 9 anti-submarine frigates and 12 new patrol boats.
Long talks of the Australian submarine bid and the competitors for it coupled with the complicated political situation in the South China Sea made sure the document doesn’t go without controversy.
The core reasoning behind this focus on the navy is China’s rising military might and the current diplomatic situation between China on one side and Australia, the U.S. and Japan on the other.
The document stated: “Australia does not take sides on competing territorial claims in the South China Sea but we are concerned that land reclamation and construction activity by claimants raises tensions in the region. Australia opposes the use of artificial structures in the South China Sea for military purposes.”
This bit got Chinese officials “seriously concerned” wrote the Associated Press, quoting the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying as saying: “China is seriously concerned about and dissatisfied with the White Paper’s negative statement on issues concerning the South China Sea and the development of China’s military strength.”
The Chinese Defence Ministry spokesman Wu Qian said at a regular briefing: “We are firmly opposed to the accusations against China’s construction activities on the islands and reefs in the South China Sea. The islands and reefs in the South China Sea are inherent Chinese territory from ancient times. China’s construction activities on these islands and reefs are conducted on its own territory and within its sovereign rights.”
The spokesman added that the South China Sea issue was not an issue between China and Australia, and that freedom of navigation was enjoyed by all countries including Australia.
At home, both South Australia and West Australia are competing to get the most out of the proposed naval program. The Australian Defense Minister Marise Payne had to react to criticism from South Australia Defence Industries Minister Martin Hamilton-Smith who said the frigate contract which was under the White Paper awarded to South Australia would be cold comfort for the state if West Australia ends up building the patrol boats, AAP reported.
What got the minister worried is the fact that the paper did not specify where exactly the patrol would be built.